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Fear and Denial: The Barriers to Success?

by Dr. Jacquie Damgaard on SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 in ADDICTION
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Are fear and denial keeping you from leading a healthy, happy life free from substance abuse?  According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health 23.1 million people (ages 12+) are in need of treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, but only 2.5 million actually seek help. What is standing in the way? In a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment , researchers identified two of the most common barriers to entering addiction treatment: denial of a problem and fear of treatment.

Denial is a strong force. Despite repeated problems in one’s relationships, at work, with the law, etc., many people are unable to admit that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol and need help. Often times substance abusers think they can quit on their own or that they aren’t at the point of needing professional help…yet. This can further the downward spiral of addictive behavior. Having a substance abuse problem shouldn’t be quantified by how much you use or how often,  it’s a problem if you are using regardless of the negative consequences it’s causing in your life.

Here are some common patterns of denial:
1.  Avoidance: “I’ll talk about anything but my real problems.”
2.  Absolute Denial: “No, not me, I don’t have problems.”
3.  Minimizing: “My problems aren’t that bad.”
4.  Rationalizing: “If I can find good enough reasons for my problems, I won’t have to deal with them.”
5.  Blaming: “If I can prove that my problems are not my fault, I won’t have to deal with them.”
6.  Comparing: “Showing that others are worse than me proves that I don’t have serious problems.”
7.  Compliance: “I’ll pretend to do what you want if you’ll leave me alone.”
8.  Manipulating: “I’ll only admit that I have problems if you agree to solve them for me.”
9.  Flight Into Health: “Feeling better means that I’m cured.”
10.  Recovery By Fear: “Being scared of my problems will make them go away.”
11.  Strategic Hopelessness: “Since nothing works, I don’t have to try.”
12.  Democratic Disease State: “I have the right to destroy myself and no one has the right to stop me!”

Fear is also a major obstacle to getting help. It can manifest itself both internally and externally. People are often afraid of the negative social stigma associated with substance abuse. They worry what their neighbors, co-workers, boss, friends and family will think of them. Lengthy inpatient programs also cause people to fear the logistics of entering treatment, such as time away from work and other privacy concerns.

Fear can also be associated with previous treatment attempts or fear of the unknown (not knowing what to expect from treatment). Often, what stops addicts from getting and staying clean is their fear of going through withdrawal. Despite the fact they are desperate to be free of their addiction, many don’t go into treatment for fear of experiencing extremely uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.


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